Fabulous & Functional Office Before & After

Here are the details about an office space I put together for an entrepreneur who was having a hard time completing projects and getting creativity in gear due to her cluttered desk.

“Getting organized was something I not only didn’t have time for but the thought of doing it is so painful and it would be exhausting.”

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Get Neatsmart: 5 Things You Can Do in 5 Minutes to Get Organized

Happy first Monday of April! Is it just me or is the year going by super fast? Here is the latest edition of 5 Things You Can Do in 5 Minutes to Get Organized:

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Cord Control

Cords, cables, and wifi oh my!

Cords, cables, and wifi oh my!

Do you have a drawer or cabinet full of cords that frightens you? Do the cords seem to be multiplying in the dark? Take control over your cords and get them organized so they don’t take over your house!

We all have more electronics in our home than we ever imagined: cell phones, printers, GPS, computers, tablets, digital cameras, etc. Multiply that by the  number of people you have living in your home and you’ve got a mess of cords to control. Here are some tips to manage them more efficiently and effectively and also how to dispose of them responsibly.

Cords need to be identified and easily accessible.

Cords need to be identified and easily accessible.

Here are some things to gather first to take on this project:

  1. Sharpie pen
  2. Rubber bands/ twist ties
  3. Zippy bags
  4. Washi tape, if you’re fancy like that. You can also use regular Masking tape. If you’re an organizer in training, you can use your label maker.

First go through the mass of cords and untangle them.  Now look at each one and determine what it belongs to. You may have to walk around the house and try to match up the cord to the electronic device. Typically cords aren’t cheap so you want to make sure you don’t toss something you really need. On the other hand, if it has been in a cabinet and you haven’t needed it you probably won’t need it. 🙂 If you can’t identify what it goes to or you know what it is and you no longer have it, put it in a bag for donation. I’ll talk more about that later.

So now you have a pile of cords that you do in fact need but you need a way to corral and label them. Take each cord and neatly fold it and use a rubber band or twist tie to bind it. Now you need to label what it belongs to or what it does. Cut a piece of tape 3-4 inches long and fold it around the end of the cord near the plug so that the ends meet up and you’ve got a tag on the end. Now take out your Sharpie and label the cord. Easy peasy.

washi label

Washi tape is fun but can be a little difficult to write on. I also love the idea of color coding items with their cords but that would require a lot of tape!

Another option is to put the cord in a size appropriate zippy bag and just label the bag. This is helpful for cords you may not use very often.

So now you have your cords labeled and probably a lot more room in your drawer to put them back. You’ve done all of the hard work so now you’ve just got to keep it up going forward. It’s a lot easier to maintain than to start off so pat yourself on the back.

What do you do with all of the cords that you don’t need, that are in the donate bag? You can recycle those typically in a city/ county recycling centers. You just have to look up your county and “recycling” online and you’ll be able to see if and where they will accept those items. Also, places like Best Buy and some Goodwill stores will recycle electronics as well. Go to EARTH 911 and you can look up by zip code the item you wish to recycle and they’ll tell you where.

How about you? How do you organize your cords?

Happy organizing!

What I learned from surviving a fire: sanity, paper, & your desk

The dryer that caught fire

The dryer that caught fire

What is the first instruction anyone gets when there is a crisis at hand? Stay calm. How do I stay calm when my home has been turned upside down? When I can’t find anything and everything I wear or touch is dirty with soot? Staying calm is the answer, though, because panic helps no situation. I promise.

As a reminder, this was not a completely devastating fire. I’m sure there are readers that have been through natural and unnatural disasters much worse than this and I certainly don’t want to undermine their experiences. However, I’ve learned some interesting lessons during this event and recovery that can help anyone. Today. Now. You can benefit from my experience and I hope it helps just 1 person.

Things are just things and really don’t matter. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Nobody was hurt. People are irreplaceable; things are not. Case closed. We were extremely fortunate and didn’t lose anything super important or sentimental like wedding pictures or family heirlooms. On that note, your things take on a totally different meaning when they are covered in soot. I’ll admit that my desk was not the picture of perfect order and organization. I had stacks of business cards, receipts, notebooks, magazines, and other papers stacked on it just like a lot of you do. It was all super important to me which is why it was out in the first place. (Any of this sounding familiar?) I was going to work on them/ file/ read/ etc. them but there they were stacked up and messy. Now they were covered in soot. I don’t know if you’ve ever had experience with soot but it is not easy to clean. It’s not a dry dust you can just wipe away. It is oily and dirty so that when you wipe it, it leaves streaks. Not fun but dealing with that was a good thing. If it weren’t the case, I’d be writing about replacing papers because they would have all been burned up. It’s all about your perspective…

Those super important papers don’t seem so important anymore when you have to wear gloves to read them. Soot is a great equalizer. Magazines and notebooks can be replaced and receipts can be duplicated. If they had been soooo important I would have already read or processed them.  I am guilty of time management issues just like you. I, too, get distracted doing “research” on Pinterest instead of recording business receipts. I get it. But time is fleeting and if you don’t take care of something in a timely manner, it will be much harder the longer you wait.

  • Set up a time each week to go through papers like mail, receipts, and bills and stick to it. If you stay consistent the pile doesn’t get larger and it takes less time to process.
  • Adopt a clear desk policy where you don’t leave papers strewn across your desk when you are finished for the day. This is a for-real compliance policy  (it’s ISO 17799/27001 compliant for you compliance nerds like I used to be) that many heavily regulated corporations adopt and enforce to ensure that employees are not leaving private information out for others’ perusing. It’s good for civilians as well to make sure you are actually completing tasks and putting things away in a timely manner. When you are done for the day, clear the papers off your desk. It makes starting the next day there so much more pleasant, too.
  • Apply the same policy to your computer so that you are saving files and sites in a timely manner. Leaving excessive windows open is akin to leaving open magazines or newspapers on your desk. Either bookmark the site or save the file so you can find it later.
  • Get rid of the layers of papers. If they’re on the bottom layer, you probably haven’t missed them and could probably be tossed. If they are important, they need to go into a To Be Filed or To Be Paid or to be tossed pile.
  • Set up a filing system and use it. Make it your own so it makes sense to you. Adopting someone else’s won’t do any good if you can’t follow it.

Set up a home filing system. While we are talking about papers and filing them in a timely fashion, I can no reiterate how important home filing systems are. Do you know where your birth certificate, passport, children’s birth certificates, adoption papers, wills, marriage certificate, etc are? If so, good for you and pat yourself on the back. A lot people have an idea of where these papers are but aren’t 100%. These are the types of papers that are a massive pain to replace. It can be done but with discomfort. These are the types of files to put in a Fire Box. We were fortunate and these documents were no where near the fire but I’m going to get one just for these documents. I’ve also heard from other organizers to store electronic copies of these in the cloud somewhere.

A filing system is essential for tracking all kinds of important family paperwork: medical records, paid bills, important letters, contracts, receipts, manuals, user guides, employment documents, bank notices, in addition to the documents I mentioned above. You need a system to file these things that makes sense to you so that it’s easy to manage.

This situation reminded me that your home filing system should also include a section for large home purchases like computers, TVs and other expensive electronics, washer and dryer, rugs, furniture, artwork, and for pretty much anything you paid a lot of money. You want to be able to find documentation on what you had, how much you paid for it, and where and when you bought it.  Our washer and dryer came with our house and we had to do some research to find out how old they were. Write down on your appliance manuals what the price was, where you purchased, and when. This will help immensely with insurance if this ever happens to you or if you sell your home.  It’s also a good idea to have a file where you keep all of your manuals and user guides.  If you need further assistance or have questions about what should be in your home filing system, send me a message carrie@neatsmart.com.

So this is the first lesson that I learned from surviving a fire:  if your papers are really important, deal with them promptly. The less you touch them, the less you are building an emotional attachment to them. If they are important, you’ll handle them quickly. Develop, or have someone help you develop,  a good management system that’s easy and sensible for you. Stay tuned for more …

To make sure you don’t miss out on any of these valuable lessons or other Neatsmart updates, like us on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Or sign up to follow the Neatsmart blog.

Happy organizing!

Summer To Do List

Can you believe summer is officially here as of Friday and that half of the year is over? Me neither. So how is your New Year’s resolution to “get organized” panning out? Do you feel like you’ll never get there? Do you start an organization project just to abandon it after a few frustrating hours or minutes? Even if ‘getting organized’ was not on your resolution list, I would be willing to bet that you’d like parts of your home or office to have fewer stacks and piles, to be more clean and ordered so that you’re not wasting time looking for things and wasting money buying what you already have. Fear not, it is never too late to get started. Here is a list of suggestions for quick, mini- organization tasks you can do right now to get closer to your goals of calm, reduced stress, and more time to do the things that you want to do:

Keeping a refrigerator in order means you don't waste energy poking around looking for food.

Keeping a refrigerator in order means you don’t waste energy poking around looking for food.

When was the last time you cleaned out your refrigerator? Can you identify what’s really in that old takeout container? Take less than an hour and toss out the bad stuff, clean out the shelves and drawers, and put the good stuff back where it belongs. Here is a link for detailed instructions on how to store food in the smartest spots.

One example of a kitchen-based command center.

One example of a kitchen-based command center.

What is the state of your command center? Do you know what a command center is? Learn more about why it’s essential to your sanity to have this part of your home in order.

Get some type of box for storing tax documents

Do you have a place for gathering tax documents for 2013? Designate a folder or box now for storing receipts, car tag statements, donation receipts, medical statements or whatever it is that you’ll need to locate next year to file your 2013 taxes. Also, don’t completely file away 2012. You’ll need to refer back to it if you do your own taxes or your accountant may need to review it as well. (no IRS jokes, please 🙂 )

Don’t store clothes without cleaning them first.

Did you put away your winter sweaters without getting them cleaned or washing them? Food and sweat is what attracts moths and other bugs so make sure they are clean and not stored in plastic. Wool and cashmere need to breathe. On that note, take your winter coat(s) to get cleaned. Don’t forget scarves, hats, and gloves if they are not leather. Just take them out of the plastic bags when you get them home.

Get your OWN filing system.

Get your OWN filing system.

How is your personal filing system? Do you know where your mortgage statements, bank statements, EOBs, and appliance warranties are? Set up a personal business filing system in a desk drawer or file box with labeled hanging files and folders. If you have kids, how are you storing their school papers? Put together a file box for saving report cards, certificates, school pictures, programs, etc. Or ask Neatsmart about creating a “Box of a Lifetime.”

Another example of a car filing system

Have you ever cleaned out your glove box in your car? Are you the kind of person that just shoves your insurance card in there with your repair receipts and takeout napkins? In less than 30 minutes, you can separate and file your car’s paperwork into a document wallet so you can find all the necessary documents when necessary. Hopefully you don’t have to show that proof of insurance frequently.


All of these tasks are a good jump start to propel you towards more order less clutter. When you’re ready to go all the way in getting your life organized or you want to continue with the momentum you’ve started with this list, give Neatsmart a call. We’ll be there to take your home to the next level of organization so you can live more efficiently, have less stress, and more time to spend doing what matters most to you.

Happy organizing!

Organization Client Case Study: Shared Workspace

I recently worked with a repeat client and it is so interesting to see how a person’s life improves after getting just parts of their home organized, even if it’s not all at once. In the spirit of honesty, I will disclose that this client is my lovely and talented sister, Laura, creator of Mixonian Institute and expert communicator, who helps me infinitely and also was a key inspiration to my starting Neatsmart. “So, you’ve worked with her more than once, does that mean she is a hoarder  living with 14 cats and a Red Sea pathway through her house?” No, quite the contrary: she lives with minimal contemporary societal trappings (meaning she doesn’t have a lot of excess stuff), has great appreciation for aesthetic beauty, is well educated and highly intelligent, eloquently charming and funny BUT she can be disorganized. Disorganization exists on many levels and in fact we are all disorganized about something in our lives so don’t think you are immune. There is only so much time in a day to get all the things done that we want to accomplish and organizing stuff is not something that most people want to allocate a lot of resources to do. I, on the other hand, love sorting, purging, organizing, etc. which is why I do it for others.

But let’s keep talking about Laura and how her life improved by getting organized. By Manhattan standards, her home is enormous. By Southern standards she has a small, efficient house that she shares with her husband, sometimes 3 children (one has graduated college and lives away, one is in college but home for the summer, and one is in high school), and 2 dogs.  Every piece of furniture has to be functional and everything in her home needs to serve a purpose. In reality, that’s the way it should be for all of us. An object’s purpose might be to look pretty but that is a valid purpose; we need to surround ourselves with things that we love, that serve us functionally, and that we find to be beautiful, as I mentioned in this previous post.

When I work with clients, one of the first thing I need to know is what is the order of priority;  what area is giving them the most headache and will thus have the greatest impact on them.  The first priority here was to get the office in order. There is the desk area in their living room with the computer, printer, supplies, files, and there is the personal work area which contains her laptop, cell phone docking area, books and magazines for research. While this might sound unconventional to those who have a designated room for their office, I know this set up is common for households that do share a computer. Her desktop computer is in a main part of the house and needs to be tidy (not an eyesore) because of its public location and service for work and homework. She needs this area to be an inspiring environment where she can be productive, find any supplies or files she needs in a split second, and have space for others to store their office and homework necessities.  It is the ultimate shared workspace.

Workspace Before

Workspace Before

So what did Neatsmart do to get this shared workspace in order? I solved the majority of her desk clutter issue by installing a bookcase to store office supplies and her filing system. It is essential to any office space to be able to easily find stamps, envelopes, paperclips, scissors, extra printer paper, notepads, construction paper, glue, tape and anything else you, or anyone who uses that area, might need. They also need to know where to put it back once they are finished. In short, everything needs a home that is easy to find. If everyone would spend about 15 minutes a day putting things away, the entire world would be tidier and less stressed–talk about a butterfly flapping its wings.

Bookcase to the rescue

Bookcase to the rescue!

We also got rid of things that didn’t need to be there or that weren’t being used–this has a huge impact because you realize that you have more space and can breathe! One of those things was the analog phone that had been collecting dust on the desk. They got rid of their house phone number but the base unit was still there. Why, you ask? Because nobody had time to disentangle it from the mass of other cords and cables under the desk. Sound familiar?

And finally, we sorted papers, notebooks, and files so that similar subjects and topics were stored together. Laura has several businesses she operates, including a non-profit organization, Charleston International Music School, so she needed to keep each entity’s materials but easily accessible.  So everything needs a home but you also need to keep things together that belong together. We created distinct areas for Mixonian, CIMS, Coaching Clients, Books in progress, in addition to the regular files like bills, financial statements, school papers, and medical information. It is essential if you work from home that you have a separate filing drawer or cabinet for your personal and home related files. You definitely don’t want to co-mingle your EOBs, credit card bills, or mortgage statements with your Client Files!

So how has organizing her shared workspace improved her life?  Here is what she had to say:

Laura Camacho“I feel better and am already more productive. Seeing your workspace neat is a major motivator. Seeing that one space can be organized shows you that anything can be organized and orderly. You feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment.”    Laura Camacho

Happy organizing!

An Unconventional Home Office Organization Project

Here is another example of a home office project that I recently completed that I wanted to share. This office was a little unconventional in that my client works from home at her dining room table and travels across the country. She needed to have her work materials easily accessible and had 2 cabinets in a buffet (remember this is her dining room) set aside for office storage.  No problem. The issue was that it was very inconsistent with what was put in these cabinets and office supplies ended up being scattered throughout the house. The printer was next to the kitchen, extra paper was in the living room, personal papers like medical records and bills were mixed in with client papers, books were stacked with work related items, and you get the picture. There wasn’t a huge amount of chaos but it was just cluttered which is where I think a lot of us live. We aren’t about to be featured on Hoarders but we end up wasting a lot of time looking for things and then spend money buying things that we already have because we can’t remember where we put something. Starting to sound familiar?

Here is the office storage. I didn't crop this picture like I normally do. The round lump in the lower right hand corner is a cat.

Here is the office storage. I didn’t crop this picture like I normally do. The round lump in the lower right hand corner is a cat.

Closeup of the cat. She was not happy to see me.

Closeup of the cat. She was not happy to see me.

So here is how we fixed the problem:

Right cabinet before

Right Cabinet Before

Left Cabinet Before

Left Cabinet Before

Separate work from personal– It doesn’t matter where you work you must separate personal stuff from work stuff, even if you work on it in the same room. This can mean a separate drawer or box in the same cabinet but you should not mix these types of papers in your filing system. You should also store personal books separately from “work” or business books. It is important to have defined spaces in your home for where you store and manage specific information so that you know where things go and how to find them later. This is critical for the home based executive or entrepreneur so that you are establishing boundaries between work and home activities. In this project, the first thing we did was to clear out the personal books, bills, mail, bank statements, etc that didn’t have to do with her day job out of the 2 cabinets and located them elsewhere.

Cleared out personal stuff and got a shelf to make good use of vertical space. Binders are labeled so time isn't wasted wondering what is in each of them.

Cleared out personal stuff and got a shelf to make good use of vertical space. Binders are labeled so time isn’t wasted wondering what is in each of them.

Utilize your vertical space-This particular cabinet was a decent size but most of it was vertical. We got 2 shelves from the Container Store that fit perfectly in the cabinet (measure twice, shop once) which allowed us to store notebooks on the shelf and smaller items on the bottom. You have to be careful when retrofitting shelves into an existing piece especially an antique, to make sure you have the right size and you don’t damage anything. Be careful of sharp edges and corners.

Labeled binders for traveling to client locations are now stored together.

Labeled binders for traveling to client locations are now stored together.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”– This client travels extensively for work so we created separate notebooks for each area that she visits regularly, expanding on her existing organziation system that works well for her. She had started notebooks for each location but some were makeshift folders or old binders that were falling apart. Now each place she visits has its own labeled binder that is easy to find and put away when she comes back from her trips.

Filing cabinet for personal information, printer, paper, and ink cartridges. Talk about neat being smart!

Filing cabinet for personal information, printer, paper, and ink cartridges. Now neat really is smart!

Keep your personal life in order– This project did necessitate the acquisition of a filing cabinet which served 2 purposes: a place to store personal files and documents and it holds the printer and extra paper and ink. These items had all been stored in different rooms of the house because no home had ever been assigned to them. I can’t tell you how important it is to designate a home for everything in your life. Think about it, you need to know where to put your cell phone, keys, winter clothes, gift wrap, scissors, tape, and so forth. The same applies to your office and really any room in your house. Now my client has an easy filing system for her bills, medical information, financial statements, etc. and a place for all of it. Her printer is now located close to her work area which means no more traipsing through the kitchen to pick up a document that was printed. Extra paper and ink cartridges are stored in top drawer so no more going to the living room to find backups. Even better, the filing cabinet is on wheels so it can be moved when she entertains….talk about multitasking!

This was an example of one home office that is a little different from those that are in specified rooms and now it functions really well for my client. She reports that she’s very happy with the results and has saved time getting ready for trips because she can find everything easily. Also, she feels more motivated to get work done because her office isn’t so cluttered and her materials aren’t scattered in different, possibly unknown locations.

I think she’s found out that neat really is smart and now it saves you time and money as well!

Happy organizing!